2009 is just around the corner and it is time for some New Year's resolutions. Yeah, yeah, almost all of us except maybe Nicole Ritchie and Lara Flynn Boyle need to lose a few pounds, but what about other resolutions? Again, it is a no-brainer to pledge to spend more time on the bike or even better yet, more quality time on the bike. Then there is I want to spend more quality time with the people I care about(family, friends, etc.) Is there a really original New Year's resolution out there?
How about I want to put less carbon fiber on my bike(frame included) in 2009? Carbon fiber has taken over the bike industry, about the only part of a bike that isn't made of carbon fiber are the tires and tubes and I am certain there is some engineer working on that as I write. Do we really need more carbon fiber? Yes, the stuff is hi-tech and you can do some amazing things with it, but can a bike have too much carbon fiber? Just a thought.
How about we all try to be nicer to car drivers in 2009? Actually, the first step is to for cyclists to be nicer to each other in the coming year. When I pass a cyclist I say 'Hi'. If the cyclist is on the other side of the road, I give them a wave. It doesn't cost me anything. So maybe the resolution is for all of us to be more friendly to our fellow cyclists and also the cars we encounter on the roadway.
How about trying to ride our bikes more and use our cars less. It takes very little additional effort to stop by the store on the way home from a ride to pick up that carton of milk or loaf of bread. Why ride 50+ miles and then use the car to head a couple of miles down to the store to pick up a missing item or two.
Well, that's a start. I am sure if I thought about it a bit more I could come up with some other ideas. Oops. There's another resolution. Think about stuff more before acting. Luckily for me, it isn't 2009 for another 24 hours or so.
While we all wait for Lance's first pedal strokes in a ProTour race, there is another tour going on and it's providing the same sort of excitement that we all see in France in July. The Tour de Ski is a 9-day, 7-race cross country ski series that is raced along a similar format of the Tour de France.
The Tour de Ski is the brainchild of Norwegian Vegard Ulvang the three-time Olympic gold medalist. You might remember, on the eve of the 1994 Olympics in his home country of Norway, Vegard's older brother, Ketil, disappeared on his way home during a blizzard (the family lives 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle). When news reached Vegard, he left the Norwegian Olympic Team's training camp and went home to conduct a search. Unable to find his brother, he decided to compete in Lilihammer and won three Olympic gold medals. They found Ketil's body the following spring when the snow melted.
If you have never seen a pack of 50+ cross country skiers racing flat out, time to tune to NBC Universal Sports and check out the Tour de Ski. Frankly, it's awesome. If you are suffering from either PTD (pre-Tour depression) or PTD(post-Tour depression) the Tour de Ski offers the true sports junkie the fix necessary to carry you through thsoe long cold days and even colder nights until the boyz on two wheels take center stage.
The first race was a 3km prologue in Oberhof Germany, the 7-minute event very reminiscent of the opening day of the Tour. After a distance event, 10km for the women, 15km for the men, the race heads to Prague for a 1km sprint. Next stop is Novo Mesto also in the Czech Republic for two races before finishing off with two final races in the Italian Dolomites at Val di Fiemme. Cool stuff and well worth checking out!
It is now officially winter and if it isn't already cold where you live, there is a very good chance that it will be very soon. Dressing to go out into the cold and be active can be very tricky, especially if you are doing something like cycling which can generate a lot of heat and sweat. Obviously, some areas will be more wintry than others, but there are a few guidelines that will help you dress as effectively as possible.
Wherever you live, the key is to be as warm as possible and to eliminate as much unnecessary water(sweat) as possible. If you get wet, whether it is from sweat, rain or snow, water conducts heat and cold much more efficiently than being dry which means you can get chilled much more easily. So, the two key goals are to be warm and also to be dry.
There are two keys to keeping dry. The first is to dress with just enough clothes so that you are warm, but not overly so. While it is probably better to err on the side of being a bit too warm, there is definitely a balance. Secondly, try to wear clothes which "breath". You want your fabrics to wick water away from your skin and out into the atmosphere.
One mistake I see, especially in climates that are only moderately cold, is cyclists wearing a jacket to keep themselves warm. Nylon or Goretex wind/rain jackets are very poor when it comes to breathing. Avoid these at all costs. A good winter jacket is made of a very breathable fabric like polyester.
In moderately cold climates, unless there is a significant wind factor (that includes going downhill) a jacket is just about the worst thing you can wear. Instead, what you want is a whole bunch of breathable layers.
Where I live in Northern California the morning temperatures can hover in the mid 30F's, but usually warm up into at least the mid 40F's. These are ideal conditions for layering. I wear a base layer t-shirt. Over that I put a short sleeve jersey and arm warmers. Over that I put a medium weight long sleeve jersey. That gives me three layers on my body and two layers on my arms.
On my legs, I wear full-length leg warmers. On my feet, I have wool socks and toe covers or full shoe covers. On my hands I wear knit gloves which breath way better than gloves with a nylon or similar fabric shell. I don't carry a jacket unless I am going to be doing a lot of climbing and then I only put it on for prolonged(>5 minutes) descents.
Obviously, conditions vary across the United States, but wherever you are, I would suggest trying to use layers rather than a nylon windshell or Goretex jacket. I think you will be surprised at how warm you can be and dry as well.
Today the race organizers of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California announced the list of ProTour teams who will be participating in the race. A number of US-based teams such as Garmin-Slipstream and Team Columbia Highroad were on the list as well as the squad of two-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer, Team Astana who will most likely bring his new teammate Lance Armstrong along with him. Team Saxo Bank, the new sponsor of the old Team CSC as well as Tom Boonen's Quick-Step squad also made the cut.
Not surprisingly, Rabobank and their ace climber Robert Gesink (that's Hesink to you) will be there. They recently signed on a a major co-sponsor of the event.Look for Gesink to be lighting it up on Bonny Doon Road during stage 2. Surprisingly, the French team Ag2r-La Mondial will be making their first appearance in California.
Even more surprisingly, Liquigas is also invited and that means the potential participation of Ivan Basso who rode alongside Levi at the Tour of California in 2007. Basso is returning from a drug suspension. There used to be a rule that any rider who is serving a drug suspension cannot ride for a ProTour team for an additional two years after the end of his sentence. When the UCI was questioned about this apparent breach of the ProTour rules, they responded that the additional two year suspension was part of a "code of ethics" agreed to by all the ProTour teams and not part of the UCI's official rules. Huh? What? Would the UCI look the other way if Floyd Landis signed with a ProTour team?
It is interesting to note that there will only be eight ProTour teams in 2009 down from nine in 2008. By UCI rules, that means that there can only be eight non-ProTour teams invited so, there will be two fewer teams(16) than in 2008(18). I hope this isn't a cost-cutting measure by the organizers of the race. But, the three-year old event has never made money and in this economic downturn it is unlikely to do so in 2009.
So, which non-ProTour teams will get the remaining eight spots? It seems like Ouch Medical, BMC Racing, Rock Racing, Bissel, Jelly Belly and Kelly Benefits have the inside track which leaves just two other slots open one of which might just go to the recently announced merger of Successful Living and Australia's Virgin Blue squads with the remaining spot going to Team Type 1.
Stay tuned to see which domestic pro squads secure a coveted berth in America's premier stage race. Anybody else got any ideas?
ps - one of last year's AToC ProTour teams, Saunier Duval-Scott, has been reborn as Fuji-Servetto. As Fuji is an American-based bicycle manufacturer it is not clear if they applied or were considered for one of the ProTour slots in the 2009 race. More as details become available.
Most days I am happy to be alive. On other days, I am really happy to be alive. A few days ago, I had one of those "really happy" days. Once you read this blog you will understand why the "really happy" days are a blessing in disguise. Suffice it to say the fewer of those particular days the better.
I was coming back home from a bike ride. It was late in the day and while the light was still good, the temperature was dropping and I was getting cold. Needless to say, I wanted to get home and get warm as soon as possible. Those who truly understand the term "situational awareness" know that external factors which make us behave differently from our normal patterns is a sign of danger.
Luckily, I seem to understand "situational awareness" well enough to still be treading this planet. As I neared a busy intersection I was intending to go straight through. There was a big SUV in my lane attempting to turn left and blocking my view of oncoming traffic. Legally, since I was proceeding straight through the intersection any oncoming traffic attempting to turn left has to yield to me and my 22lb (world heaviest titanium bicycle) road bike.
But, because of the SUV in my lane attempting to turn left I couldn't see if there was any oncoming traffic wanting to turn left. I was going about 20mph entering the intersection, but because I didn't have a clear view of the entire situation, I slowed way down to about 5mph. Sure enough, as I passed the SUV on the right, an oncoming car turned left. Since I was going slow enough, it was easy to stop and avoid a collision. The turning car driver never even looked in my direction to see if there was anyone coming.
My actions may seem like a no-brainer, especially if you ride defensively and have good "situational awareness". However, I continue to hear more and more about car-bike accidents in my area and I end up asking myself, even if the car driver was at fault, was the accident avoidable?
The bottom line is that bikes end up on the losing end, in a big way, in collisions with cars. It is best to ride defensively, especially in traffic or areas where confusion is the rule rather than the exception. Be careful out there! It is better to have "really happy to be alive" days than no days at all!
The route of the 2009 Giro d'Italia was unveiled in Venice on Saturday and all I can say is what?!?! This is the centenary Giro, remember the centenary Tour back in 2003?, so clearly there has to be some tie-in to the 100 year history of Italy's biggest race, but what the heck? And with Lance Armstrong, Ivan Basso and 2008 Tour Champion Carlos Sastre all scheduled to start, maybe the route is only a secondary concern.
What about the route? Sure it is the customary 2500 miles (4000km) long, but there aren't really any big Dolomite climbs with strategic significance; the hardest climbing day is mostly in France and even though there are a bunch of mountain-top finishes, they just don't have the recognizable names that we have all come to know and love over the past 25-30 years.
That doesn't mean the mountains aren't going to be challenging, it's just that the route doesn't seem to lend itself to any "normal" flow. From the get go, the race is going to be challenging with a 13-mile(20.5km) team time trial on stage 1. Only four days later, Stage 5, the first of three mountain top finishes, the Alpe di Suisi in the Dolomites offers a 5000' climb with the final 6 miles at a very challenging 8%.
The next big test for the riders is a Stage 10 from Cuneo to Pinerolo which includes the Maddelena(Larche), Vars, Izoard, Montegenevre and Sestriere passes on the 150-mile route. This is the queen stage of the Giro and includes 17,000+ feet of climbing. Unfortunately, it is a 33-mile(55km) descent to the finish in Pinerolo so the GC selection may be limited.
A 37-mile(61km) time trial on Stage 12 has some significant climbing and could really break the race wide open. Look for Lance Armstrong to make his move on this stage after hanging with the leaders and conserving on Stage 10.
Stage 17 is only 50 miles in length, but it is all uphill from basically sea level to the 7000' summit of the Blockhaus. This is a pretty darn tough climb and will basically be a time trial between the overall contenders. Here is a photo of the final mile to the top.
A mountain top finish on Stage 19 to the summit of the famous Vesuvius volcano(sorry Pompei) is the final climbing test. The 3300' ascent over 8 miles has the profile to shake up the overall standings.
A final, short, 9-mile(15km) flat time trial in Rome probably isn't long enough for anyone to make a serious move up the standings, but if the gaps are tight, it could provide all the fireworks necessary for a nail-biting finish.
Can Lance win the Giro and become only the second American after Andy Hampsten's 1988 victory? Yes, I don't think there is anything in the route that provides a real danger to any of the Texan's weaknesses. Does he have any weaknesses? Certainly the 37-mile very hilly time trial will be a key stage for Armstrong especially if he can hang with the other contenders on the climbs.
The nation's best cyclocross(CX) racers are convening in Kansas this weekend for the annual "maybe mudfest" known as Cyclocross National Championships. For those not familiar with cyclocross, it is way too complicated to explain here. Just think of a bunch of people riding a criterium in the dirt with a few barriers and hills to run up each lap.
Every cyclocross course differs, but there is one thing that is common to all. The weather can change a course from fun to epic which may actually be considered fun by real CX diehards. Rain, snow, sleet, hail and just about everything else that makes a mailman cringe is really what CX is all about. Warm, dry conditions are like kissing your sister. Its the mud and muck which really make a true CX race.
Which is why Tim Johnson's win last year was so exciting. Tim is one of the nicest guys in the pro peloton not to mention that he is also one heck of a racer having taken a bronze medal at the World CX Championships. But, the coveted stars and stripes jersey seemed to elude him year after year until Kansas 2007 when he triumphed in conditions that were lacking the requisite falling snow, rain or sleet, but made up for it with mud, slush and muck.
In 2008, Tim has been the most consistent CX racer in the US events and personally, I wouldn't mind seeing him keep the Captain America jersey for another year.BTW, Tim will be riding alongside Floyd Landis on the road in 2009 as both will be on the Ouch Medical presented by Maxxis team.
Other Americans such as Jonathan Page, Ryan Trebon and Barry Wicks are not far behind Johnson. Mechanicals and crashes are a huge part of this sport. Anyone of these guys is a mechanical or a crash away from the top spot on the podium.
In the women's event, Katie Compton has won the national championship before and has a silver medal from the World CX Championships. She is the prohibitive favorite, but Katerina Nash has been giving her some great battles this season and Rachel Lloyd is always in the mix.
Personally, I am hoping that race organizers see Noah floating past on race day, much like the deluge that was the 2002 CX Natz in Napa (the Domain Chandon property will never be the same) or maybe Santa out testing his reindeer in a early season blizzard. After all, it is a cyclocross race.
Obviously, there is no need to give any tips on watching the race at either the stage starts of stage finishes. Watching the race on the road is a bit more difficult and there are some points to consider. Above all, you don't want to endanger the safety of the race nor do you want to cause a delay which may effect the outcome. The key here is to be respectful of the event and the riders.
Yes, it is a free country and you have every right to be there on the side of the road cheering your favorite riders, but please bear in mind that these are professional cyclists doing their job. You wouldn't want somebody coming to your place of work and causing you to perform badly so please don't create a situation on the road which causes the riders to perform their job badly.
That means staying well back of the riders as they pass. The pros tell me that every so-called "pat on the back" feels like a kidney punch. Just give them their space and let them ride their hearts out. It's OK to yell encouragement, take photos and even paint names on the road, but touching and getting in their face is a no-no.
If you are going to paint the roadway, try to make the words or symbols as thin as possible. It can rain a lot in February and paint keeps the water from soaking into the pavement. If you cover the whole roadway with some artistic design it can cause a very slick surface for the riders. Just ask Freddie Rodriguez who crashed out of the 2002 Tour on a huge replica of the Luxembourg flag.
Cycling to watch the race is a great way to see the riders. If you are using a route that is not part of the race course then there should be few problems. However, if you are going to be on the race course, which is definitely the case on climbs, you may be asked to either dismount and walk your bike or you may be kept from moving at all. I wish I could give you an exact time to be at your desired viewing spot before the race passes by, but because of a number of factors it is virtually impossible to say when the road will be closed to cyclists.
The race passes through numerous police jurisdictions and they all seem to deal with the event in their own way. The best advice I can give is to leave early, bring lots of warm clothes and food and convince a few friends to come along so you can have a party of sorts while you wait. Be sure to check the weather conditions. Waiting in the rain is really a drag. Oh yeah, look both ways before you venture out onto the roadway. Even on supposedly closed road, race vehicles seem to magically appear out of nowhere.
I don't consider myself a scrooge, but Christmas isn't my favorite time of year.It isn't because I keep getting lumps of coal in my stocking or that Santa Claus never seems to bring me everything on my Xmas list. Unless I have some repressed memory that hasn't surfaced yet, I have good memories from my childhood of Christmas Day. But, I have to tell you that even with all the potential material gain, I am glad that Christmas comes only once a year.
Of course, this is a totally selfish feeling. It is always about me, anyway. But, where I live in Northern California you can ride your bike 12 months of the year and not have to go out dressed like the Michelin man. The problem is that starting the day after Thanksgiving, it seems like every person in Silicon Valley with a valid driver's licenses (and some here illegally without a license) take to the roads in search of Holiday cheer.
The mini-vans and SUV's start flocking to the malls, Christmas tree farms and holiday parties like the world will end on December 26th. The drivers have that look and grip on the steering wheel like they are on a mission to save the planet and nothing will stop them from accomplishing it. They drive like they are 30 minutes late for their next stop; speaking of 'stop', during the days before Christmas I think stopping at intersections is regarded as just a suggestion.
All this harried driving adds up to one thing. It is supremely dangerous out there for anybody on the roads with a vehicle weighing less than about 2500 lbs. Savvy cyclists ride super-defensively at this time of year. It just makes sense because, even if you have the legal right-of-way, the results of a car-bike collision will be much more serious for the two-wheeled driver.
So, my Christmas wish for all of you is to be careful out there. Look both ways twice before entering an intersection and even if you have the right-of-way, use extra caution. Hey, that's good advice for riding throughout the whole year.
The route of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California was announced today and not surprisingly, my predictions as to the actual course were not far off. I can't understand why the AToC isn't going to pay homage to James Dean when they pass the site of his tragic auto accident on Stage 5. Members of the organizing committee, you have been warned. Rather than re-hash all the stuff from my previous blog, I thought I would post a few pics of the route.
Here is the stunning redwood forest on Tunitas Creek Road the first big ascent of stage 2. This is a great climb, the meat is about 1200 feet in 3 miles with sections up to 10%. Overall, the total ascent is 2000 feet spread over about eight miles. Too bad Tunitas Creek comes way too far from the finish to have any effect on the race. BTW, there was a major repaving effort on Tunitas Creek this past summer specifically to get the climb ready for the ATOC. Unfortunately, the repavers left the lower two miles of the aforementioned three mile steep section untouched which means the peloton will be riding over a lot of bad, heavily potholed pavement. For some reason, they repaved a lot of the less-steep sections. What a pity.
Palomar Mountain is the last big climb of the AToC. However, the ascent comes way too early in the stage to have any effect on the overall standings. Race organizers have called this the equivalent of a mountain top finish. Huh? What? Not even close. It makes one wonder. Here is a photo of Floyd and the current sponsor of his 2009 team, Dr. Brent Kay of Ouch Medical Center, riding up the lower slopes of Palomar with the bulk of the mountain visible ahead of them.
It can get pretty cold up on Palomar Mountain during winter!
Coming up, how to view the race and get in a ride to boot!
The official route of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California is scheduled to be announced this week. We know the start and finish towns for each stage, those were announced this past summer. What we don't is the exact roads the race will take between those towns. Below is part fact, part speculation on the route. Read at your own risk.
Stage 1 - Sacramento. Well it was supposed to be stage 1, but instead of an out-and-back course up into the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento, it looks like the state's capitol will host a prologue time trial.
Stage 2(well, stage 1, but we're not going to go there again)- Davis to Santa Rosa. Exact route unknown. It is not that far as the crow flies between the two towns so there has to be some bobbing and weaving. Rumour has it that the major climbs will be Howell Mountain (2 miles of 9-10%) and Calistoga Road. Unfortunately, these climbs are not long enough to really affect the overall results especially with Howell Mountain coming mid-stage.
Stage 3 - Sausalito to Santa Cruz has the profile to shake up the general classification. No doubt the race will be neutralized over the Golden Gate Bridge and through San Francisco. When the race hits Hiway 1 it will make several detours on its way to Surf City. The first includes Tunitas Creek Road, a testing 2000-foot ascent, but its location at least 50-60 miles before the finish negates its impact. Once back on Hiway 1 at either San Gregorio or Pescadero, the final ascent, Bonny Doon/Pine Flat Road coming only 15 miles before the finish and the screaming descent down Empire Grade past UC Santa Cruz will definitely see a small 10-20 person group at the finish. Will Lance be one of them?
Stage 4 - San Jose to Modesto will most likely feature either Mount Hamilton or Sierra Road, but the over 50 miles of downhill and flats to the finish will neutralize any effect of either climb.
Stage 5 - Merced to Clovis should feature several trips up into the Sierra foothills. I am guessing that Tollhouse Grade just east of Fresno will be one of them, but again, there is enough flat or downhill into Clovis to take the sting out of any of the climbs.
Stage 6 - Visalia to Paso Robles. About the only thing notable about this predominately flat stage is that it passes right past the intersection where James Dean was killed in a traffic accident in 1955.
Stage 7 - Solvang to Solvang. As in every one of the three editions of the Amgen Tour of California, the race will be decided in the 15(or so) mile time trial.Be there or miss out on the decisive stage.
Stage 8 - Santa Clarita to Pasadena. This is a carbon copy of the final stage of the 2008 race. Again, the climbing comes too early to have an effect on the overall.
Stage 9 - Rancho Bernardo to Escondido. This is the final stage and is rumoured to include Palomar Mountain, a nice 4200' climb from Pauma Valley. Unfortunately, as in every other stage except stage 3, it is a long way from the top of Palomar to the finish and any advantage gained on the big climb will need a very, very motivated group of riders to keep it all the way to the finish.
So, there you have it. Fact and fiction. What's real and what's not?